Photography · Scotland

Friday photo: clouds

A variety of cloud types floating above Wigtown Bay in the south-west of Scotland, with a stripy field of grass and a dry stone wall in the foreground.

P1070946 (2)

Advertisements
Perthshire · Photography · Scotland

Friday photo: snow

Like many other parts of the UK, eastern Perthshire has had quite a bit of snow this week, being driven in on strong easterly winds from Siberia. In between frequent blizzards, we’ve been fortunate to have some blue skies and sunshine. Scotland’s gritter lorries have been kept busy clearing the major routes, leaving quieter roads, like Keay Street in Blairgowrie, white and powdery.

snowy blairgowrie
Snowy Keay Street, Blairgowrie, Perthshire.
Book review · Non-fiction · Scotland

Book review: “The great horizon” by Jo Woolf

Fellow blogger and editor of The Hazel Tree, Jo Woolf is also Writer in Residence at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS). During her investigations into the society’s archives, she came across a wealth of fascinating material relating to explorers and adventurers, some of which has ended up in her wonderful book, “The great horizon”.

The Great Horizon by Jo Woolf
“The great horizon” by Jo Woolf (2017)

The book, meticulously researched and extremely well written, contains 50 biographies of remarkable people associated in some way with the RSGS, dating from the society’s inception in 1884 to the present day. Many of those featured received medals from the society for outstanding contributions to geography, and all of them have inspirational stories to tell.

The 50 individuals are organised under five category headings: Ice, Voyagers, Heaven and Earth, Missionaries and Mavericks and Visions for Change. Each category contains ten personalities, a mixture of the well known and not so widely recognised. Famous names such as Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen, Edmund Hillary, Neil Armstrong, David Livingstone, Thor Heyerdahl, Ranulph Fiennes and David Attenborough sit comfortably alongside people I hadn’t heard of such as Børge Ousland, Sven Hedin, Robert Ballard, Joseph Thomson and Marion Newbigin.

The world of exploration was dominated by men in the Victorian era, but there were notable women whose adventures were just as astonishing; women such as Isabella Bird, who was born in 1831 and became the first female Fellow of the RSGS. Having trekked through remote mountain ranges and travelled through hostile foreign territory, at a time when such behaviour must have seemed scandalous for a well-bred western woman, her story particularly stood out for me. Having said that, each of the biographies is unique and noteworthy and I would find it impossible to pick a favourite.

Although many of the explorers detailed in the book displayed amazing feats of endurance, determination and courage while conducting their daredevil adventures, they must have been quite difficult to live with at home. As Jo describes, it’s easy to imagine them struggling to accept a mundane daily existence that failed to provide sufficient challenges for their restless spirits. This side of the adventurer’s character came to mind quite a few times as I read through the book.

Every generation needs its mavericks and heroes, and despite the lack of ‘big firsts’ left to achieve on terra firma, there are plenty of modern day adventurers desperate to push the limits of what’s achievable. In some ways the world has become a smaller place since the 1880s, but there’s still a great deal to discover, both on Earth and beyond. I like to think the Royal Scottish Geographical Society will still be here in another 130 years, encouraging new generations of geographers, and providing inspiring and uplifting tales of adventure to fill future editions of “The great horizon”.

Photography

4 Friday photos: food

I haven’t posted anything for the past few Fridays due to visiting my mum in hospital, and trying to keep up with all the other things in life at the same time. To catch up, I’m posting four photos this Friday. My mum was in hospital for just over three weeks, and my dad and I usually took a picnic lunch from home, eating it between visits in a quiet hospital corridor. On a couple of occasions we bought food in the hospital and the first two photos are examples of what was available there. One day, feeling in need of a treat, we stopped on the way home at Piperdam Golf and Leisure Resort and bought ourselves coffee and puddings. The last two photos show the puddings we chose. They were both delicious and we felt quite pampered.

lentil soup
Hospital food: lentil soup in a polystyrene cup with a plastic spoon (the soup was surprisingly good)
chip butty
Hospital food: chip butty (a buttered white bread roll filled with chips)
After Eight cheesecake
Piperdam pudding: After Eight mint cheesecake
STP
Piperdam pudding: sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream
Nature · Photography · Scotland

Friday photo: moorland mosaic

This picture shows the effects of rotational heather burning on a moorland in the county of Angus. The purplish patches on the hillside are areas of heather that have been burned in different years. Burning heather gets rid of older plants and encourages new growth, and burning small areas in successive years creates a patchwork of plants of different heights. Moorlands like this one support a variety of wildlife, including several species of ground-nesting birds that prefer to nest in recently burned areas.

P1080607 (2)
A moorland mosaic of burned heather patches near Loch of Lintrathen, Angus.

 

Nature · Photography · Scotland

Friday photo: goats

Two wild goats in the Queen Elizabeth forest park in Galloway, Scotland. Supposed to be kept on a strict grass-based diet, this ancient breed of long-haired beasts will happily relieve you of your sandwiches given half a chance.

wild goats
Wild goats on sandwich alert, Queen Elizabeth forest park, Galloway.

 

Book review · Fiction

Book review: “And then there were none” by Agatha Christie

Even by Agatha Christie’s extremely high standards, this novel contains a truly ingenious plot. By her own admission, the book took an enormous amount of planning, and it’s only in an epilogue that the brilliant solution to the problem is revealed.

And then there were none
“And then there were none” by Agatha Christie (1939)

The mystery begins when ten people from a variety of backgrounds are invited to Soldier Island. The island, which lies off the Devon coast, has recently been sold to an unknown buyer and there has been much discussion in the newspapers about who may have bought it.

Each of the ten invited to the island have been lured there on different pretexts, including a young woman who believes she has been engaged as a secretary, a doctor who has been sent no details about his invitation but has received a large fee for attending, and an elderly General who expects to be meeting up with old army chums.

A local boatman takes the guests to the island, where they find a married couple acting as butler and housekeeper. The butler and his wife are two of the ten who have come to the island at the request of the owner, a Mr Owen.

When word arrives that Mr Owen has been held up and will not be joining the party immediately, the guests begin to discuss who this mysterious man might be. None of them have met him or have any idea who he is. Even the butler and housekeeper are in the dark, having taken up their positions on the island just days before the guests arrived.

In each of the bedrooms there is a printed nursery rhyme about ten little soldier boys. The rhyme begins ‘Ten little soldier boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were Nine.’ As the verses go on, a soldier boy dies in each one, until the poem concludes with the words ‘And then there were none.’ In the dining room the guests notice ten small china soldier figures, which appear to represent the soldiers in the poem.

As the guests sit enjoying coffee after dinner on their first evening on the island, a disembodied voice suddenly fills the dining room. The voice details the names of each of the ten people staying in the house along with an accusation of murder committed on a certain date. The guests listen in astonishment as each of them is accused of a dreadful crime.

Not long after that, one of the guests chokes to death, and that night the housekeeper dies in her sleep. The butler is disturbed when he notices two of the little china figures have disappeared from the dining room. When the General is murdered by an unknown hand the following day and another china soldier disappears, it’s obvious that something decidedly sinister is going on. A search of the island reveals no possible hiding place for an eleventh person, and no sign of there being anyone else present.

The story carries on with rising tension as each of the original ten people meet their end by one means or another. When they are all dead the mystery remains: who killed them?

I quite often read Agatha Christie at bedtime, but I would recommend keeping this particular novel for daytime pleasure. From a reasonably innocuous beginning, a sense of menace increases as the book goes on. The tension builds once the killings start, and from then on there’s no let up until the culmination of the book.

There’s an author’s note at the beginning of the edition I have, taken from Agatha Christie’s autobiography, in which she explains that she wrote the story because it was so difficult to do that the idea fascinated her. ‘The murder of Roger Ackroyd’ is often hailed her most brilliant novel, and it is indeed a superb creation, but this one is a real class act and has one of the cleverest plots of any novel I’ve read.